What are some literary devices used in chapter 1 of All Quiet on the Western Front and what are the author's intentions? Why does he use them?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Remarque's intentions are to record the horrors of war and the damage to the spirit of the individual.

Remarque's novel moves from an objective style to one marked more by impressionistic images and internalization of feeling. By using the realistic juxtaposed with the impressionistic, Remarque records a war both external and internal. That is, he depicts realistically the starvation, the deprivation, the senseless waiting, the marching, and the absurdities of war.

In Chapter One, Remarque begins in a reportorial voice with his narrator, Paul Baumer, describing some of his fellow soldiers and their situation. When it is time to eat, they form a queue, and then he injects some sarcasm about the military:

At the head of the queue of course were the hungriest--little Albert Knopp, the clearest thinker among us and therefore only a lance- corporal. [This is satiric sarcasm that makes fun of military officers.]

Another description that is humorous is that of Tjaden, "a skinny locksmith of Paul and his classmates' age": 

He sits down to eat as thin as a grasshopper and gets up as big as a bug in the family way. [This is a simile, a comparison of two unlike things using as.]

An additional simile is in the description of the "muffled rumble of the front" that they have not yet experienced. In their romantic minds, the youths interpret the rumble of canons "as very distant thunder, bumble-bees droning..." Remarque's narrator employs a rather colloquial simile ("rumble of canons as...thunder") that demonstrates Paul's simplicity.

Some of the poetic that dwells in Remarque surfaces in the figurative description of Stanislaus Katczinsky, the group's leader, who is

...shrewd, cunning, and hard-bitten, forty years of age, with a face of the soil, blue eyes, bent shoulders, and a remarkable nose for [figure of speech—having a "nose" for something is being able to sense and find it] dirty weather, good food, and soft jobs.

Irony finds its way into another section of the chapter when Paul describes a day in which there are small wooden box seats with handles over the latrines as "wonderfully good." Paul remarks that at home things were merely hygienic; here, without any comforts, having such seats is "beautiful."

Then, too, Paul notes, that teachers "carry their feelings ready in their waistcoat pockets, and trot them out by the hour."  This description uses figurative language.

In one paragraph of this chapter, Remarque satirizes the chauvinism that causes men to enlist in wars as Paul recalls the words of his old schoolmaster who glorified the war and the honorable act of enlisting in a patriotic cause. Only Joseph Behm, "a plump, homely fellow," objects to the chauvinistic propaganda. After Joseph is ostracized and he reflects now as a soldier, Paul caustically satirizes the foolishness of those swept away by their new patriotism:

...no one had the vaguest idea what we were in for. The wisest were just the poor and simple people. They (the adults) knew the war to be misfortune, whereas those who were better off, and should have been able to see more clearly....[but] were beside themselves with joy.

Katczinsky said that was a result of their upbringing. It made them stupid. And what Kat said, he had thought about.

The youths have become cynical of their mentors as they have associated these mentors with "a greater insight and a more humane wisdom"; however, now they realize their own generation was more worthy of trust. Now they are alone, and must make it through the war on their own.

Remarque's use of literary devices illuminates the realities of war as well as the delusions. With their youthful innocence and inexperience of the front, Paul and his friends still do not know what the war will bring them. So, they enjoy the moment and reflect upon the words of their old schoolmasters, seeking to make sense of that which will prove itself senseless as they question the mechanical militaristic tendencies of Germany.

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All Quiet on the Western Front

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